Monday, May 7, 2012

When I grow up...

I have one more great topic that was brought up by an elementary school student during my Ag Books for Kids presentations and activities. A boy in the last class I met with asked how you become a farmer or rancher, and his teacher tagged on what advice I would have for her students to help them succeed if that was their goal. She told me later that she had a few students who wanted to be farmers/ranchers when they grow up.
I was admittedly tired and slightly shell shocked from seeing more young kids in two days than ever before, and my answer wasn't the greatest. When I wrote thank-you's to the class, I included a list of things students could do to help them get a foot in the door of agriculture.
Possibly the wittiest answer I've heard to the question posed is that to have the best chance of becoming a farmer or rancher in today's world is to select your ancestors carefully. But, sardonically true as that answer is, I do believe there are other ways to enter the industry, and am certainly not going to discourage a young person to become in agriculture. Especially when I firmly believe there is no better industry to work in.
Here's a rundown of what I typed up for those interested to consider as they grow up:

1. Consider joining 4-H, which you can do at 9 years old, and FFA when you reach high school. There are numerous animal and crop related projects that will teach you a lot about agriculture. I also feel strongly about joining judging programs, which can be done through both organizations. Plus, 4-H and FFA offer a lot of fun opportunities for kids and in many cases allow them to travel and see agriculture in other parts of the country.

2. When you reach the age where you're looking for a part time or summer job, try to find one with a farmer and/or rancher. They often hire summer help, or extra help for busy days of the year like branding, weaning, shipping, harvest, etc... Nothing will beat the hands-on experience of working within the industry. Plus you'll meet people who can help answer future questions you might have.

3. Attend some meetings. State Farm Bureau and Stockgrowers/Cattlemens, or local weed and pest and predator board meetings. These groups will cover issues that will be what you deal with should you decide to become a farmer/rancher, and they are often very educational. They may not be overly exciting all the time, but they will cover topics that you will be personally faced with as a working part of the industry.

4. Go to college, it's important. You will learn new things, and perhaps more importantly, meet new people. Go into something you enjoy, whether it's an agriculture field, or something totally different. Lots of farmers and ranchers have an additional job on the side in their degree area to supplement their farm/ranch income. This is one thing to consider if you do or don't have a family operation to take over also.

5. Never stop learning. Some people think they've learned it all after college, and this isn't true, especially in agriculture. There's only so much you can learn about gathering cattle, spraying crops and working around weather while sitting behind a desk. Also never stop meeting and learning from successful people you meet along the way.

6. Consider all your talents. As I mentioned above, a lot of farmers and ranchers have an off-farm source of income. One of the great things about agriculture is you often work for yourself, and if you're willing to work that extra job when it fits your schedule, it can help you get started, or pay off the expenses involved in agriculture. It can also allow you to do multiple things you love, which can be fun and rewarding. We didn't discuss that I am a writer and a photographer in addition to having cattle while I visited the class, but I included that in my letter to let them know what I have to do in this stage of my life as a rancher.

I also mentioned that being a farmer/rancher is a lot of hard work (they asked that too), but also very rewarding and a lot of fun. The work never stops, but you get to be outside, working with your family, at a job that is different every day.

Did I miss anything? What advice would you give a second or third grader who asked you this question? I would love to hear your thoughts before I go back into the classrooms next year, so that I can do a better job of encouraging young people to go after being a farmer/rancher if it's what they want to do.

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